Peace conference draws thousands

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As many as 4,000 people are expected to attend a peace conference in Oslo this weekend sponsored by Islam Net, Norway’s largest muslim organization that researchers claim resembles the Christian missionary movements. The group opposes violence and promotes fundamental muslim values, not to be confused with radical Islam.

Oslo's Sentrum Scene usually hosts concerts, but this weekend it was preparing to welcome thousands of people keen to debate various issues related to Islam. PHOTO: Views and News

“There have been some terror cases both in Norway and Sweden, and it’s with that in mind that we’re inviting to debate,” the founder of Islam Net, Fahad Qureshi, told newspaper Aftenposten. “It’s about time that we have an open dialogue on these cases.”

Qureshi, a 23-year-old man from Lørenskog northeast of Oslo, founded Islam Net in 2008 while he was still an engineering student. It has since grown into the country’s largest muslim group with 1,400 paying members and local chapters in Tromsø, Bodø and Akershus. It has organized the “Peace Conference Scandinavia 2011” to be held at Sentrum Scene in downtown Oslo.

Links to the revival movement
Olav Elgvin of research organization Fafo in Oslo, who’s working on his master’s degree on ideology and muslim leaders in Norway, has followed Islam Net closely and compares it to Christian missionary movements popular in the US. He sees parallels between the groups’ highly professional operations, spectacular stage presentations and missionary fervour, as they seek converts to the faith.

“Islam Net is preoccupied with spreading the faith and wants more people to become muslims,” Elgvin told Aftenposten. “It can remind you of the Christian missionary organizations, especially those who have a professional means of spreading their word.”

Elgvin stressed that his research disproves any notion that Islam Net is trying to build an Islamic state in Norway. The group, he said, is non-violent and opposes terrorism. He calls Islam Net “a modern fundamentalist” group that marks its Islamic identity as being different from western traditions and doesn’t shy away from controversy. It has conservative views on the roles of men and women, for example, but progressive attitudes include its opposition to forced marriages, which it calls a “cultural” development within Islam and not part of fundamental Islamic beliefs.

Reaching out
Qureshi wants to reach out to young muslims to keep them from joining radical Islamic movements. Radicalism, reports Aftenposten, is defined by the special Norwegian police unit PST as a process where violence is accepted to achieve political goals. “There are muslims who have a distorted view of jihad, for example, and think it’s legitimate to kill innocent people,” said Qureshi, who advocates prayer instead of terror.

He thinks criticism of Islam can spark anger among some young muslims and make them vulnerable to extremists with radical views. “We want them to become de-radicalized, to attract them before they fall into the hands of the wrong people,” he told Aftenposten. The weekend conference may include radical views, but the point is to debate them, in the spirit of freedom of expression.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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